Transforming Managers for Organizational Change

By O'Neill, Paul E. | Training & Development Journal, July 1990 | Go to article overview

Transforming Managers for Organizational Change


O'Neill, Paul E., Training & Development Journal


Transforming Managers for Organizational Change

Technological change. Deregulation. Changing markets. Demographic shifts. New legislation.

Today's business world is increasingly turbulent and uncertain. As a result, many organizations are reviewing and adjusting their corporate missions and strategies through planned change efforts. If those efforts are not linked with corresponding changes in organizational culture, they can create great frustration that may cause the change efforts to fail.

Any change in an organization's culture requires that each organizational group learn the behaviors, norms, values, and basic assumptions of the new culture. It is particularly critical for members of management to learn all facets of the new culture effectively and efficiently. Management is the one group that must buy in to the need for a culture change, actually go through the culture change, and lead the change efforts of all other groups in the organization.

Too often, change within a management group occurs haphazardly. Trial-and-error learning among managers can seriously hinder the needed organizational transformation. What's needed is a more systematic learning process that can facilitate effective cultural change among managers, who then can influence the rest of the organization.

The management groups

The study described here examined the change processes of three management groups within three semi-independent mechanical shops. The shops were part of an Iowa-based railroad company that was trying to forge a new relationship with its customers. Traditional railroad practices emphasized cost-driven operating efficiencies; the new relationship was to be driven by the needs of customers.

The railroad company realized that the transformation would require a new organizational culture. The new culture would have to foster collaborative relationships within the overall railroad and within the shops themselves--a car shop, an engine shop, and a caboose shop, each with 100 to 300 employees. The three management groups had some success at changing the organizational culture, but each group used different change processes and achieved different results.

The results of the study may provide a better understanding of the patterns, processes, and learning involved in an organizational culture change among management groups.

Research results

The study first examined the company's Total Quality Improvement System (TQIS) and the process by which the three shops set goals. The goal-setting process was found to have a critical impact on the success of the overall change effort. Each shop was at least nominally committed to attaining these four corporate TQIS goals:

* to give all employees the freedom necessary to meet the needs of their internal customers (job enrichment)

* to encourage and recognize coopeative efforts (teamwork)

* to encourage and recognize innovation (continuous improvement)

* to address employees' problems and concerns through open communication and attentive listening (problem solving).

In-depth interviews with shop management revealed that not all shops consciously pursued all four corporate TQIS goals. Only two of the shops pursued goals that included changing the management group's basic assumptions.

Achieving the goals of the engine and caboose shops would force shop managers to make complex changes in their philosophies of how people should be supervised. In contrast, the car shop pursued goals that required managers to make only simple changes in supervisory behaviors and norms. The car shop's goals stopped at the value level of culture change. (The figure compares the shop-level change goals and the corporate TQIS goals.e

The next step in the study was to determine the success of each shop in meeting the corporate change goals.

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